For union members and leaders, there’s an often asked question about Labour Day: ‘What does Labour Day even mean anymore? Surely employers will provide fairness and recognition?’ Well, no that’s not necessarily how it works for working people – whether they’re in a union or not.
This COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the essential nature of work and those jobs we take for granted. Fast food workers; grocery store staff; health care workers; staff who work in our schools; people providing care within community group homes, you know – the heroes that we’ve been applauding every single day while we stay home and keep safe. They go out, risk their health and the health of their families, to keep services and care running.
Beyond that, our eyes have been opened to delivery staff, people working on the essential supply chain, truck drivers, those who produce our food, soap, hand sanitizer, and yes, toilet paper! Their importance to our wellbeing, our safety, and the essential need we have for them is worthy of our respect, thanks and compensation for a job well-done.
Until this pandemic, we took these workers for granted, but we’ve gained some understanding of how important their work is to our own wellbeing and safety. The recognition of Labour Day is a celebration of these workers – of all workers, because we all provide a skill that is relied on. That service should be recognized and respected.
From our very early days fighting for an 8 hour workday and ending child labour, unions have endeavored to see that people are fairly compensated and treated with the respect inherently deserved by those working to make a living. There is a nobility in that kind of labour. When you add to this the fact that those unseen jobs are key to our safety and survival as a species, it brings Labour Day into a new focus.
Our labour isn’t simply to provide profit to corporations or businesses, it’s to keep us all safe, fed and healthy and making progress in legislation and rights in the workplace. Unions advanced the ideas we now take for granted: Employment Insurance; maternity and parental rights; safety at work; and bargaining rights – these are things we take for granted today, but are vulnerable to attack and being rolled back.
Whether we are in a pandemic or not, it’s the dignity of all work and workers that we should be respecting and valuing, not taking for granted.